Mamas Spotlight: Emilie McDonald – Queens Mama & Filmmaker

Queens is full of people who are doing what they can to make a difference in the lives of others. We are always looking for mamas and dads in Queens who are doing exceptional things. When we heard about filmmaker Emilie McDonald, we had to share her story.

 

I was lucky enough to speak with her and ask her a few questions to help get her message across.

 

We’re always excited to hear what Queens mamas are up to! Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m Emilie McDonald, mother to almost-4 year-old Miranda and wife to a wonderful man named Bruce.  I’m also a filmmaker, writer and actor.  I grew up moving around the U.S. and Mexico (my free-spirited Mom loves to travel and we lived in such places as North Carolina; New Mexico; San Miguel de Allende, Mexico; and Oregon to name just a few!) and have been in Queens for about ten years, the longest I’ve ever settled in one place.  My husband Bruce Smolanoff and I met as actors and have evolved together as filmmakers, working on several projects together (Miranda has also been involved in two of our projects, one of them in vitro!).  He is a creative force to be reckoned with and an inspiration to me.

What’s your favorite part of parenting in Queens?

I have been blown away by the community of parents in the Sunnyside area.  I lived here for years before becoming a parent, and loved the few people I met, but there were parts of the community I had never explored.  Having Miranda opened up a whole new world to me.  I have met fellow moms who will be friends for life and Miranda has true and meaningful friendships.  I am very touched by the sense of community here, and the feeling that we are all somehow responsible for each other.

How do you balance being a filmmaker and a mama?

Being a mama comes first, and as my daughter’s full-time caretaker it is important to me that she be nourished in many ways throughout each day.  I am also committed to being a filmmaker so it is definitely a balancing act at times.  My husband works in fundraising at a nonprofit and has unusual hours.  In the busy seasons he often works until midnight.  Sometimes I am able to get a little time to work in the mornings, and in the evenings after Miranda goes to sleep.  I get a babysitter 3 hours a week.  Lately it has been particularly challenging balancing fundraising with parenting, but I think we are doing all right.  You can read more at my blog about being a filmmaker mama, http://filmmakermama.blogspot.com/.

Has being a mama changed your point of view as a filmmaker?

It absolutely has.  I was focused on various pursuits before I had Miranda, and extremely passionate about each one.  But having Miranda limited my time and really made me focus on what I wanted to do.  I’ve wanted to be a filmmaker ever since college and my career has taken many zigzags since then, from being an art model to being a Director of Development at a production company.  But what I’ve always wanted to do and didn’t know how to make happen was to make films.  And then I finally just started making them.  And yes, it is challenging, and with each one there is the question “How will we ever be able to achieve this?”  But it is exciting to figure that out.  It is hard to put into words, but I feel having Miranda has made me fully pursue my dreams.  And being with her is part of that!  I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Additionally, having a child has made me look even closer at the world we live in and my responsibility in helping to make it better for her and her generation.  I hope through my films I’m able to at least make a small contribution towards that.

You started Flicks in the Garden with other Queens moms. Tell us a little more about it.

Flicks in the Garden started out as an interesting way of doing volunteer hours for our local private park (Sunnyside Gardens Park) and ended up being a completely fulfilling community endeavor that brought together local independent filmmakers, park members, and many Sunnyside residents on a lovely September evening to watch short independent films by local filmmakers.  My co-organizer, Tammy Arnstein, was a friend through a local group of moms.  We both had past film experience, so we thought it would be fun to plan the event together.  What we didn’t realize was what an incredibly collaborative relationship would come from it.  We are now collaborating on other projects and it is wonderful to have someone so brilliant, hard-working, and sensitive to share ideas with.  It is also very comforting to work with another mom who understands the juggling act of having a small child.  Luckily, our kids love each other, so we are often able to combine playdates and meetings!  I am very excited to be working with both Tammy (as Co-Producer) and another amazing mama friend of ours, Andrea Rose (as Marketing Director) on my next short film.  Collaborative mama power!!!

Your latest project, “Crossing the River”, is about a modern-day hate crime and tolerance. What do you want people to take away from the film?

“Crossing the River” is sadly inspired by a true story from 2010 and is about a bi-racial girl who is traumatized when her family is targeted by a cross burning.  The film will explore the points of view of both the victim and perpetrators, and seeks to reveal how someone can be influenced to do something morally unspeakable.

The article that inspired the film was about teenagers who were accused of burning a cross on a family’s lawn, and how the family was affected, especially their 13 year old daughter.  I was very moved by the story, and especially by how it was apparent that the girl truly believed that people were good and wanted to continue to believe it despite her experience.  When I later read that the two boys turned to the family in court and apologized, it gave me hope.

I really want to understand how something as extreme as a cross burning could still happen in this day and age.  I recently read a quote from the Southern Poverty Law Center that there are an estimated 40-50 cross burnings in the U.S. every year.  This is shocking to me and should not be happening!!!  If young people are brainwashed into believing that it is acceptable to do such a thing, perhaps there is still a way that with the right type of leadership, they can overcome ignorance.  It may seem naïve to some, but I believe that with understanding it is possible.

The amazing advocacy organization that we are partnering with, WNCCEIB (Western North Carolina Citizens for an End to Institutional Bigotry), who have been working tirelessly on a shoestring budget for 20 years to combat racism and bigotry of all forms, is a huge inspiration to telling this story.  You can read more about them and their work at http://www.main.nc.us/wncceib/ .

The film needs another $5,000 before it’s made. Tell us more about your Kickstarter campaign, and about the ways people can back the film.

We are 48 hours away from our fundraising deadline on Kickstarter, and have a little less than $5,000 to raise!!!  We are incredibly fortunate to have raised 66% of our goal, that is $9,895 towards our $14,800 goal, and are very grateful for the outpouring of support and belief in us and our project.  As many folks know, Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing platform, so if we don’t raise our goal, we will lose all the pledges we’ve already received from 125 backers.  Pledges are coming in as we speak, and as we get closer to our deadline even small donations such as $10, $25 or $50 can make a HUGE difference towards making our film a reality.  We truly appreciate any support people are able to offer, whether it’s through a contribution to the Kickstarter campaign (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/emiliemcdonald/crossing-the-river ), ideas for resources in South Carolina, or frequent flyer miles to fly our crew from NYC to SC.

Thank you Queens Mamas for being such an awesome resource to Queens mamas such as myself!